Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England. The Magic of Toadmen, Plough Witches, Mummers and Bonesmen by Nigel Pennick

I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence my review.

Witchcraft & Secret Societies of Rural England. The Magic of Toadmen, Plough Witches, Mummers and Bonesmen by Nigel Pennick is a weird book.

The title and description caught my attention. The book is exactly what it says it is, but I was expecting something a bit different. Maybe I thought it would be more synthesized for a popular audience. Instead, it is a densely detailed collection of data written in a way that presents information without much analysis.

The book begins by laying out the geography of the region and how people utilized the land historically. Then it discusses various historical occupations such as drovers, blacksmiths, shoemakers, ploughmen, wise women, farmers, etc.. It seems each of these groups had secret societies with somewhat bizarre (though often overlapping) superstitions and rituals. They invested objects, particularly animal bones, with magical properties. And they liked to drink and chant almost Monty Pythonesque songs (that the author quotes in their entirety.)

The book is a treasure trove of anecdotal information. Those who love this sort of thing, particularly historical novelists who want accurate period detail, should find this a remarkable resource. However, it’s a difficult book to sit down and read through from beginning to end.